Album Review: Thank You Scientist - 'Terraformer'

22 June 2019 | 10:51 pm | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

Not an album, but a record.

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If you’ve never heard of Thank You Scientist, then you just aren't enjoying your best life. Thank You Scientist are without a doubt, one of the most innovative and talented group of musicians currently active in progressive rock music. The masterminds that make up Thank You Scientist do not settle with where they've set the esteemed bar on their previous records, oh no. In fact, they push the bar to an almost unreachable standard with their highly anticipated third record, 'Terraformer'. And this mighty new double album is easily going to be one of, if not the, standout record of the year for me.

You always hear about how X or Y group are underrated, but Thank You Scientist really are one of the most criminally underrated groups right now. For 'Terraformer' is a world-class album born and raised by world-class musicians: Thank You Scientist isn't your run of the mill prog-rock band. They’re professional and unique in what they do, ranging from traditional rock band instrumentalists to the lovely additions of electric violinist Ben Karas, saxophonist Sam Greenfield, and trumpeter Joe Gullace. Those unorthodox instrumentalists (for rock, at least) are not used sparingly; they're integral parts of the band. Then there's the pristine mix behind 'Terraformer', allowing each instrument to be properly defined, with the bass noticeably being more audible than ever, thus making the crazed rhythms that much more impressive.

Admittedly, 'Terraformer' is a lengthy, dense album to consume, but that's all part of the fun. Matter of fact, it's actually two albums worth of music packed into one - coming from the band themselves after yours truly seeing them live somewhat recently. 'Terraformer' just pushes shy of 84 minutes in its total runtime, and TYS made damn sure to put everything they possibly can into every single minute of this record. There are multiple longer tracks to be had amongst these 13 compositions, all filled to the brim with ridiculous vibrant and eclectic instrumentation that I'm sure may be exhausting for some listeners. Yet for those who love a challenge, for those who live and breather over the top but tastefully weird prog-rock epics, this is the album for you. This is weird music for weird people. Thank You Scientist is the Dark Souls of progressive music. Once you hit play, nothing else will ever be the same again.

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At face value, you might think of Thank You Scientist as self-centred, pompous dudes who just want to flex how good they are. Well, when you're as good as they are, I guess you couldn't help but write music like this. Yet they certainly aren't boastful about it. Each member is a master at their own instrument and relative role, and amongst all the different sections, inter-weaving ideas and solos, no single member takes precedence over another. They're unified in their vision, with egos checked and left at the door upon entry. All of the instrumental voicings are perfectly balanced, resulting in magically balanced passages, yet each member gets their own private moment to shine away.

The absolute biggest strength of this band is how they're able to remain technical and complicated but somehow still have these incredibly hooky melodies and digestible rhythms balanced throughout this new record. Like a stunning collision between the instrumental jazz of Snarky Puppy to the catchy choruses of Coheed & Cambria, all methodically planned out by The Mars Volta. It really is an impressive threading of the needle that very few other acts could even close to achieving. This group of gentlemen make such complex music look like fucking child’s play!

From the first track alone, 'Wrinkle', you’re made clear what to expect tonally. On previous albums, TYS usually started out a record with a shorter introductory track with Salvatore Marrano’s smooth vocals easing you into what was to come. But with 'Wrinkle', you’re given an infectious, brief little instrumental number that sets the stage for the rest of this magnificent record. The succeeding track, 'FXMLDR', is the best track that encapsulates everything occurring under the hood of this album. You've got everything from an ear-worming chorus, face-melting riffs, an unforgettable saxophone and bass duet, to the harsher, darker jazz outro breakdown. It's an outright sophisticated belter! Next up, 'Swarm' is much bouncier and riffier, with a slight Latin influence in the slower bridge of the song. The air-right rhythmic syncopation, rapid changes, and those frequent little flurries of frantic melodies from all of the instrumentalists across this soaring third track is beyond belief at times.

The smooth and silky saxophone and trumpet, provided by Sam Greenfield and Joe Gullace respectively, joyfully leads one into 'Son of a Serpent' as Cody McCorry goes to town on the bass. The next several tracks are slower and less in-your-face, give you a much-needed breather. 'Birdwatching' is one of the least Thank You Scientist-sounding tracks available, yet one of their most unique tracks: not quite an interlude, but also moodier and more experimental than what band so often is. 'Birdwatching is a slower, darker take led by Salvatore’s beautifully relaxing vocals, one that slowly progresses towards this glitchy, sampled electro-drum solo that's reminiscent of 'Fugue' from The Dillinger Escape Plan’s final outing, 'Dissociation.' The nine-minute hulk of 'Everyday Ghosts' is an intimate, vibes-heavy, mid-tempo jam best described as 'tone-heaven', with so many funky moments. Even with the longer track, it's just so satisfying to dive into all: following along with the layered instrumental lines whilst relating to the deeply personal song lyrics about struggling with one’s self every waking day.

Amongst the rest of the album, the standouts are easy picks: 'Chromology, the brief interlude of 'Shatner’s Lament, 'Anchor', and the lovely 'New Moon.' 'Chromology' is an instrumental masterpiece that will leave you breathless. It blew me away, that's for sure. Here, each member gets a spotlight shun down on them for their virtuosity while the rest of the band accompanies. You get electric wind instruments, a trumpet duet, a brief voice sample, and an saxophone and trumpet caught in an epic battle to the death. The razor-sharp staccato patterns are also incredibly fun too - trying to tap along is a must! Master guitarist Tom Monda shreds your skin off with his solo, Cody shows what it means to be a bass god, and violinist Ben Karas sends out chills when his squealing violin solo enters. During the non-solo parts, I feel like I'm stuck inside Super Mario 64 with how bouncy, bright, bombastic, and astronomical the instrumental prowess is.

Although over a minute in length, 'Shatner’s Lament' is still powerful. The drum brushes and saxophone timbre makes it all sound so antiquate, making me feel like I'm a mob boss in the early 1920’s, smoking a cigarette while I count my fat stacks of criminal money. Slow-burner 'Anchor' remains a highlight on album filled with highlights, with the rhythmic instrumental pandemonium toned down to allow Sal real time to shine behind the mic with another passionate, emotional singing display. The trumpet and guitar move back and forth, reacting to one another to build-up an immense chorus followed by a killer big-band section akin to that of Diablo Swing Orchestra. 'New Moon' is another experimental piece but this time around, Tom busts out a goddamn shamisen to give the song an entrancing, twirling traditional Japanese vibe alongside Ben's calming violin plucking and some light strings and booming percussion. The record closes out with the melodically massive, riffing prog-metal of the title track, simultaneously leaving you empty but full at the same time.

'Terraformer' is one of the most ambitious, boldest and eclectic progressive rock/metal albums of 2019. I think it's safe to say that this is also the best Thank You Scientist album to date. Although it only slightly suffers from its somewhat exhausting length, and me personally wishing there were a couple more shorter experimental songs a la 'Birdwatching', 'Shatner’s Lament', and 'New Moon', this jazz-fusion beast succeeds in making me want to spin the whole LP again immediately after making it to the glorious end. I cannot name another album this long, in recent memory, that has such a profound, gripping effect upon me. Although nowhere near as dark and melancholic as their past works, this new Thank You Scientist album has its own sound, it's own vibe. The musicianship is immaculate, the technicality is unrivalled, and the hooks are huge; so much so that what the skill these seven musicians possess is beyond the pale at times. It honestly seems like as if TYS sold their souls at some shady crossroads for the talents of 1000 professional musicians. There's honestly no combinations of words that could explain how magical this album is. But hey, I tried my best. Now that I'm done committing written fellatio on 'Terraformer', go and hear it for yourself.

01. Wrinkle


03. Swarm

04. Son of a Serpent

05. Birdwatching

06. Everyday Ghosts

07. Chromology

08. Geronimo

09. Life of Vermin

10. Shatner's Lament

11. Anchor

12. New Moon

13. Terraformer

'Terraformer' is out now.